There’s a campaign to increase the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. It’s called Question 2 — and it would raise the cap on the number of new charter schools in the state. It’s funded with millions of dollars from right wing donors, from outside of Massachusetts, under the banner of “school choice”. They’re running ads during the Olympics. We Jews, especially those on the Left, as many in the Jewish Labor Committee are, generally embrace choice. Choice is good, no? So why is this referendum question, Question 2, so terribly bad for education and for those of us who embrace justice? Let me tell you.
Chiefly, it’s about the money. Right now, with the current cap on charter schools in Massachusetts, over $400,000,000 is diverted from the public schools to the charter schools. And of that huge transfer of money, a disproportionate amount is coming from those school districts, like Boston, Holyoke, New Bedford, and Springfield, where the money is most needed.
That’s a huge problem — and exposes the underlying destructive power of the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts. In the name of providing an educational choice for students, the funding of these charter schools is coming from the public schools that can least afford the draining of their precious educational funds.
The defenders of charters will tell you that the money just follows the students, from the public schools to the charter schools. These pro-charter forces opine that as the public schools lose students, they lose the need for funding. But this surely isn’t the case.
Imagine an urban high school with 1,000 students, evenly divided among four grades, 9-12. To make it simple, imagine that each grade has 10 classes of 25 students each. A charter opens up near-by. Five students from each class choose to enroll in this charter school. Overall, the public high school loses 20 students. Last year, the district spent, on average, $15,000 per student. This year, since they have lost 20 students, their budget is slashed by $300,000. Though each grade will lose 5 students, they haven’t lost enough students to have fewer classes. So they still need the same number of classroom teachers. They need the same heat, the same cleaning staff, the same secretarial staff, and administrative staff. Their core costs don’t go down at all. But they’re $300,000 poorer. What do they do? They’ll probably elect to cut the very things that make a high school education enriched — music, art, library, or sports. In the interest of “choice” this urban school is forced to choose which part of their children’s education they will cut. How can this be good for education?
There are many other problems with the expansion of charter schools. Let me name one more for this relatively short blog piece. (Check out www.saveourpublicschoolsma.com for more information). Charter schools take a disproportionately small percentage of children with special needs. Though they may not overtly discriminate against them, since they are not legally required to educate all students in a school district, they may not have the facilities or staff to properly serve students with special needs. These students are also proportionately more expensive to educate — leaving the underfunded public schools with that burden.
When a parent with a child with special needs looks at the charter school, he or she will decide not to enroll his or her child in it— lacking as it may well be in appropriate services for their child. Similarly, a child who is learning English as a second language (ESL), may well elect not to send their child to a charter school that lacks a robust ESL program. These special needs and ESL students stay in the public schools, legally bound to provide them with a good education, and increasing the actual per student costs of the public school.
Perhaps Juan Cofield, the President of the New England NAACP put it best. “The ballot question would take hundreds of millions more taxpayer money, creating a two-tier education system”. In the same of school choice, Question 2 would actually further an educational system that would be separate and unequal. That’s why I am campaigning against it.
Ashley Adams has been a union organizer, representative, and trainer for 32 years, since 2000 with the Massachusetts Teachers Association. He is also the past-president of Temple Hillel B’Nai Torah, in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. He has been a loyal member, and is a past-co-chair of the New England Jewish Labor Committee. He is happily married to a wonderful woman and is the proud father of two adult daughters. In his spare time he is a poker player and author, having written'Winning 7-card Stud' (2003), 'Winning No Limit Hold’em' (2012) and 'Union Power Tools' (2012).